Fear. (Journal Entry #118)

Cass and Coty came to me the next morning. There were memories in their eyes. And questions. Questions I couldn’t quite answer.

All of us knew something significant had happened. But what it was? I did not know.

And if I didn’t, how could two mere girls?

Life returned to the normal it was becoming. At least, for us at the hotel. The prison.

It was hard not to feel trapped here.

They have doubled the number of guards on us. And…it limited Coty and my freedom to do what it is that I now know compels us. 

If we can change something, maybe we can change everything. 

At least for the ones we love. 

But a part of me feels…nothing we do will change anything. 

That we can’t.

Something greater than the two of us is at play here. What that is, I do not know. 

And it terrifies me. There is…more terror now in my heart than there has been before.

My terror is reflected in Coty’s eyes now. She feels it too.

And yet…we do not know what it is. 

I do not know what to do now. 

But I have to do something…

Before it is too late.

The Truth. (Journal Entry #117)

When next I woke they were there. Again. Waiting. Theo, the dhar of our people, and of course, Cormac.

The male just couldn’t seem to get enough of me lately, could he?

I was really starting to feel sorry for that female of his. 

She deserved so much better.

“So…now what are you involved in, female?” Cormac leaned over me, and asked. 

“I don’t know what you mean. I was…g-g-gardening. We were next to the grotto, discussing the plants that might grow best, when they…came…came…came for us. No. Came for her. Cass.”

“And you and Coty Boltier did something to stop them, didn’t you?” the dhar asked. 

“I…am not certain. I know that there was a shield. But I do not know if I did it. Or if Coty did. Or…maybe it was even the goddess’s doing.”

“What I know is that I’ve seen that shield before. Welded by demon females in the demon worlds,” Cormac said, leaning closer. “So tell me…why is that you were the one who brought it?’

“B-b-because of the demonspirin, p-p-perhaps? I do not know…” I didn’t have a clue. I told him that. He didn’t believe me, of course. 

But I kept one thing a secret—it wasn’t just me. I know that shield grew…the instant Coty and I  had connected with Cass. 

That girl isn’t fully human, I’d bet good money on it.

And neither is Coty. 

But just what they are…well, I don’t know the answer to that, either.

I answered their questions as best I could, but I was so tired. I could barely keep my eyes open. “I-I-I was just gardening…”

I looked into Theo’s face. There was exasperation there—and fear. For me?

I do not think this cousin of mine has my best interests at heart now. No. He cares only for the good of our people, perhaps. His female. His closer family.

Not me.

I have no one, save the friends I have made, and the sisters I love so much to look out for me.

I will not forget that.

No matter what is to come.

Answers? Not going to happen. (Journal Entry #116)

“How did you stop them?” a harsh male voice whispered in my ear late that evening. There was a hand over my mouth.

It was all that kept me from screaming. I blinked at the male holding me in place for a long moment. The scar told me exactly who it was.

I calmed. 

He was still an extremely terrifying male, but I did not think he would harm me. 

“D-d-did you kill him?”

We both knew who I spoke about now. 

Equan Black nodded. “Tell me, Jume, how did you stop the attack today?”

“I-I-I am not entirely certain. All I remember was feeling what they were after. Who.”

“The Taniss girl.”

“Yes. Cass…Cass…Cass is so young. So innocent. There was no reason they should have come for her. I remember reaching for Coty. And then…the shield was there. I do not think it was just Coty’s doing. But I know it wasn’t just me.”

“And the fire? The flames? What caused that? There is talk, speculation now. Not all of it good.” He sank into the chair next to my bed, right there in the healer’s hall. “Some is about you—but most is about her. That girl. A mere babe.”

There was disgust in his tone. 

Disgust I understood. “Well, th-th-they aren’t going to hurt her. Not if I can stop it.”

His smile quirked. He was such a darkly beautiful male. But there was no humor in the expression. None at all. “Because you are such a fierce protectress, little one?”

“Be-be-because it is the right thing to do. She is barely more than a child.”

“She is full-grown. Do not doubt that. But I agree…the girl is far too innocent for this world.”

“Yes. She is. But then again, so are the Boltiers.”

“Are they now? Not as evil as the one who sired them?”

“N-n-no. Not at all. They are…so clean of heart. Far more than even some of our own.”

“Then the goddess has forsaken them, just like she has the rest of us. Rest, little Jume. And thank you. I owe you a great debt. I will repay it someday. You have my word.”

He touched my face, just once. And I slept.

I couldn’t resist, after all.

He was the most powerful male I have ever seen…

But…I know one thing down to my soul:

Unlike many of our people, there is nothing evil about Nalik Black.

But the man…he is most definitely up to something.

Then again, so am I.

Monsters should never come… (Journal Entry #115)

When I woke, Kellis was staring down at me, a worried look on her face. Kellis was always worried about me lately.

It isn’t as if I try to do these kinds of things lately. 

They just sort of keep happening. 

“W-w-what day is it?” I asked. My mouth was so dry. 

“Thursday.”

It definitely hadn’t been Thursday when it had happened. Tuesday. I think it had been Tuesday. “Are Cass and Coty ok?”

“Better than you.” Kellis was fussing over the blankets. “They both woke yesterday. Neither of them had any answers, either. So…”

“Let me g-g-guess…Cormac Jareth has the questions?”

“Spot on. What exactly were you doing out there?”

“Gardening. We were just…gardening.” I just looked at my sister. 

I definitely didn’t know anything more than that.

Unless…the attack may have had something to do with what we were searching for regarding the Goddess?

But no. That didn’t make sense, either.

“Th-th-they were after Cassandra. I could feel it. But I c-c-couldn’t feel why.

Kellis settled next to the bed. I finally looked around and figured it out. “Healer’s Hall. Again. Where are Cass and Coty?”

“Cass is with the dhan. She is extremely upset about what happened to her baby sister. I can say that I understand her reasoning. You have to be more careful, Jumena. If I was a human female, I’d be getting gray hair from all of your adventures, lately.”

“I am not exactly ad-ad-adventurous, Kellis. I just…they didn’t come for me. They came for Cass. Coty and I…and Cass…we stopped them somehow.”

“But how?”

Wasn’t that the million dollar question? “I-I-I don’t know. I don’t know at all…”

I told them that when they came to question me again. Of course, it was Cormac Jareth and Aodhan Adrastos…and this time it was the dhar himself and Theo.

Of course, it was Theo.

It was almost always Theo and Cormac when things went wrong in my world.

Perhaps they were the curse now plaguing me?

I looked at the dhar. I have spoken to him before, of course, as Theo’s secretary, but now…

There was a look of anger in his eyes that had me shaking. “I do-do-do not know why they came when they did. But they were after little Cass. I could feel it.”

The dhar’s face tightened. With worry, of course. And I understood it.

Cass was his female’s only sister, after all. And just twenty-two years.

Monsters should never have come for that girl. 

There is power… (Journal Entry #114)

Something knocked me to the ground. I just screamed, and fought. A green glow surrounded me, and my new friends. 

I did not know where it came from.

But it was working. The Lupoiux were backing away. From me.

From Coty, who had somehow gotten in front of me. Her hands were up in front of her. 

And I knew…it was me and her together that were doing this. We were keeping these beasts at bay.

And they were there for little Cass. Why? Why could such horid beasts go after such a sweet, young girl as Cass?

She was on the ground behind us. I reached down, with strength I didn’t know I possessed, and pulled her closer. Between me and Coty. They had the same eyes, these two young females. Family. Even though they barely knew one another.

It was their family that made them targets now. I could feel the rage of those beasts battling at us.

I wrapped my arm around Cass and tried to protect her head. 

I didn’t know how long this shield that Coty and I had somehow created would last. 

I could hear the battle raging around us, though my sight had somehow clouded in a way I could not explain.

I reached out, almost blindly. Linked fingers with Coty.

The three of us were touching, connected. Power surged around us so strongly, I was knocked to the ground. 

Trees around us caught fire, for just the quickest second.

Warriors were coming, running. To protect us?

Well, a little too late, in my opinion.

Hands were reaching for me. Pulling me to a seated position.

I wasn’t going to stay there, I could have told them that. I was too weak. 

Warriors lifted us. I could barely open my eyes.

When I did, I wish I hadn’t.

Cormac Jarath. Again.

That male…why was it always him?

“I’m not sure. I think a better question is…why is it always you, Little Jume, that the world just keeps coming for now? And just…what in the hell did the two of you do this time?”

How was I to know?

I didn’t have a clue.

But…his arms were strong and my head was swimming, and we were safe again.

I let my eyes close, and the darkness took me once again.

Why are we all this way? (Journal Entry #113)

I haven’t forgotten Kellis’s warning, but Coty and I had a purpose now. One that I just felt was right for me now. Evalaneadea and the girl goddess. 

They were tied together so tightly, and what I could find now, could…be the answers I sought.

To questions I’m not even certain are fully enough formed yet to even matter. To anyone other than myself, that is.

I have to do this. It…drives me now.

Coty had a worried look in her eyes when I told her that a few days later. 

She had been spending time with her young cousin Cassandra in the main gardens of the hotel. They have discovered a love of plants in common. 

It is a love that I share. The three of us have spent many hours clearing the weeds around the grotto. My cousin, the head of the grounds crew, has been a bit slack on his duties lately. 

He stood glaring at me—and my new friends. I shot him a pointed look. He would not intimidate me, like he was no doubt wanting.

I am tired of males thinking they can control what I do.

I am Jumena Woald. I have no male relative with a right to control my business. I answer to myself, my Equan, and my Dahr. And somewhat to my sister, Ambrea.That is it.

I was discussing that with Coty—and young Cass, though she was busy digging in the fresh earth and humming, next to my left side. They agreed with me. Coty was full of questions about the different expectations of my culture compared to hers, where females were concerned. And why it was allowed.

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. 

I think our people, our females especially, have lived in fear of the other Kinds so long that when the big strong warriors told us that they would protect us, we just…rather sort of went along with it.

When perhaps we should not have.

Even sweet young Cass snorted at that. 

I sensed a great soul within the young girl, but just what it is about her that is so different, I have yet to put my finger on.

We were planting a row of poppies, my favorite flower, when screams broke out somewhere just along the other side of the wall.

And then…the beasts were on us.

I screamed, as loudly as I could. And put myself in front of the two younger girls.

They were human.

They could die a lot easier than I could.

Convenient Targets (Journal Entry #112)

There were eyes on us. I have not forgotten that Cormac and Theo have been watching me this long. The mere idea of it disgusts me. I feel like a pawn upon the chess board of my own life. 

I am sick of feeling this way.

My sisters came to visit. Of course, my Julea found my new MacBook. I lied, told them that I had done a favor for the head of the Black House and he repaid me with the computer. 

I then had to explain what that favor was. 

Fortunately, little Alleah interrupted at just the right moment.

I didn’t have to tell them the entire truth at all.

Something…something doesn’t feel right, right now. I know that sounds crazy, but there is a charge in the air that wasn’t there before. 

I can’t put my finger on what it is. It is probably from the goddess being amongst us now.

She has been kept busy with making reparations with the Wolf god. Trying to fix what the two of them have broken with their bitter arguments that have cursed us all.

Sometimes I struggle with the anger towards her. I will freely admit it.

I am never going home.

I told this to my sisters, once Alleah was snuggled in my bed, napping. She was a bit too old for naps, but she always had liked curling up like a little kitten. Especially in a hotel bed. 

She, like many other young girls, imagined life in the resort to be so romantic. Complete with a wealthy Rajni to love you forever.

It was more filled with danger and sadness now than anything.

“There are problems arising,” Kellis warned me when we had a quiet moment alone, after the rest of my sisters left. “Some in the House of Black are blaming the Woald for the death of that little bastard.”

“But we did not do it.”

“No. But that doesn’t matter. We are Woald. We are convenient targets. You shouldn’t forget that.”

“I won’t.”

“There is something else. Something with the Dhar’s heir, Jierra, and the male she has been mated with. And the goddess and wolf god. Something…is changing. I just don’t know what it is.” Kellis hugged me quickly. “Watch yourself. It’s…dangerous now. In ways I can’t put my finger on. I don’t want to see you get caught in the middle of it.”

“I won’t. You have my w-w-word.”

Blood on my hands (Journal Entry #111)

I’ll admit it, after that, I burst into tears. Coty promptly lit into Theo after that, ripping him up one side and down the other. Even Cormac looked uncomfortable—and guilty—at the things his female’s cousin had to say. 

But Coty effectively chased them away.

Then she sat there and put one arm around me until I stopped crying. “I’m sorry. I-I-I…I know he is just trying to keep me from getting my hopes up. I could feel his worry and concern.”

“But it was a completely boneheaded thing for him to tell you. Not much better than we got two days ago, either.”

She had already told me that she and her sisters had been informed of the same thing. 

None of us…are going home. “We’re going to be stuck here forever.”

At least…until death finally caught up with me. With Coty.

I had two choices now. 

I could just hide myself away in this hotel and hope I prolonged that inevitablity. Or I could do something worthwhile with my time. Make a difference.

Do something important. Something…like… Change things somehow.

“Come on. I want to figure out what is going on with Evalanedea while I am still alive to do something about it.”

She whooped quietly. “I guess we could go ask your new boyfriend why he wants you to stay away from anything to do with it? You can tell him thank you for the laptop. That one there…it didn’t come cheap.”

It was a brand new MacBook. I knew how much those things cost. It was far out of my budget. “I don’t know if I can accept it. It’s so expensive.”

“It was a gift. The way I see it, the guy broke into your room and scared you. He did owe you something for that, right? It’s not like you’re a paid lady, being kept by the hot guy or anything, after all.”

I still didn’t know what to think. And this wasn’t something I could ever tell my sisters about. Although…they would see the computer eventually when they visited. “I…don’t know…”

“Look…you can always give it back later? I know that if a seriously hot guy gave me something like that…I’d probably have his vampire babies willingly. I mean…wow. That is some apology.”

“But is it for him breaking in here…or something else? I mean…”

“What?”

“The only one who would be allowed to kill Olietus Black without the council’s approval…is Equan Black.”

“You think he left here last night and tracked the little asshole down?”

I nodded. That was exactly what I suspected.

If it was true, did that mean I had Olietus’s blood on my hands?

I just do not know.

Then again…if it had been Nalik Black, he was well within the law to mete out justice like that.

Even if that was one law that I would never be ok with.

Whoever had killed Olietus, had doomed the youth’s mate to an eternity alone. I never would have wished that on another.

I said a quick prayer to the goddess. A prayer that Nalik Black had not stained his own soul on my account, last night…

I am not going anywhere… (Journal Entry #110)

“Wh-what note?” I looked for one. I didn’t see it.

Cormac dangled a white piece of paper in front of my nose. “Care to tell us what it means? Or who wrote it?”

I grabbed it. Read it quickly. I am sorry about last night. Please accept my apologies. As for the computer, time to bury the old dinosaur. Use the new one wisely—and don’t go getting into any more trouble. I’ll be watching you.

“I-I-I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. I had a minor…exchange with someone. Who saw fit to apologize. Not exactly a high crime.” My cheeks burned when I remembered his lips on mine. 

“Is it? Then why is it you spent the evening alone last night? We’ve checked the cameras. You were alone all night.”

No, I wasn’t. Not all night. But how had he masked his presence?

And…why were they so concerned with who I was with?

“M-m-maybe, I was speaking with someone online?”

“We checked that, too,” Cormac said.

“What about a phone call?” Coty asked, sarcastically. “You got her bugged?”

I looked at the two males and knew that was exactly what they had done. 

“You’ve been spying on me this en-en-entire time?”

Why? Why did I matter to them so much?

“What is going on that you think I’m involved in? Th-Theo? Tell me.”

My cousin looked at me, his eyes cloudy. Theo’s eye-sight weakened more each year. Eventually he would become completely blind. 

“Olietus Black was killed last night. Inside the city limits.”

I gasped. “I thought he was in Texas.”

“He was supposed to be. But he came back. At the exact wrong time, apparently,” Cormac said. 

“I know he w-w-was after me, but what does his death have to do with me?”

“The Dardaptoan symbol for the law of vengeance was burned into his chest, Jume. And he was draped with a yellow Woald hasha,” Theo said. “Do you know who did this?”

Only very particular members of each House had the right to evoke that kind of…law.

The equan of each House could use it against any of his House he felt had transgressed in an unforgiveable manner, at his own discretion. And his top two enforcers could act on his orders. But only with strong justification.

And only with permission from the high council could one from another House, even an equa or equan, invoke it against anyone from another House.

This type of punishment was the…highest punishment possible. 

It condemned a Rajni to a lifetime alone. That was never taken lightly. 

I shook my head. “No one of the Woald House would do that in my name, Theo. My equa, I am not even certain he is aware of what has happened to me. Anyone else who would care…would not be allowed to use that mark. I do not know who would do this.”

“Who gave you the computer, Jume?”

“Why does that have anything to do with what happened to Olietus? It was just a…male…that I know. He-he-he snuck in here last night so we could…talk. That is all. And he kissed me. That’s all. Nothing nefarious.”

A lie. I was standing there lying to Theo and Cormac Jareth.

To protect the one male who could have killed Olietus Black with impunity.

Nalik Black.

It had been Nalik Black. I am sure of it.

“If you are lying to us, there will be consequences,” Cormac said.

“Would you believe me, even if I wasn’t? I know that you do not trust me. Even though I worked for you faithfully for five decades, cousin. Tell me this—why? Why is all of this happening to me? Can you see that? If not…then please leave. Coty and I were on our way to lunch now.”

Theo wrapped his hand around my arm. “Do not ever forget…you are in this hotel for a reason. Someone paid Olietus to kill you. We have yet to find out who. Don’t ignore the threat.”

“I just want this to end, Theo. I just want to go back to my home. Is that too much to ask?”

My cousin surprised me when he pulled me closer and hugged me gently. “I know. And I know how hard this has been for you. But Jume, you must know by now…you are never going home again.”

What is going on? (Journal Entry #109)

I told Equan Black everything that I could remember about what had occured with Olietus Black. He was infuriated that such an assault was kept secret from him.

I did not envy Theo when that male caught up with him. After he left, after another warning to stay out of this thing involving the world of the goddess, I lay in my bed for hours. 

I was far too churned up to sleep now.

When I had fallen asleep, I hadn’t exactly expected to wake with the most powerful Dardaptoan in existence looming over me.

I definitely hadn’t expected such a male to kiss me!

But that was the least of what was keeping me up. 

Something was going on within the Black House. And Theo hadn’t trusted the Equan with that knowledge enough to clue him in on what had happened with Olietus.

Why?

What was Theo involved in? 

Or was it Equan Black that I should be the most frightened of? 

He hadn’t exacty harmed me when he kissed me. 

He could have. He is a very strong, powerful, dangerous male. If he had truly wanted to, he could have harmed me in many ways.

But he hadn’t.

He had come to warn me instead, perhaps?

I had distracted him with the discussion of Olietus, I suspect. Angered him.

I did not know what the result of that would be. Most likely he would rip into Theo for not sharing information pertaining to his House, and that would be that.

Unless it angered Theo.

Then…I suppose I should be ready to deal with my dear cousin from that.

I told my new best friend and favorite accomplice—adventures with Coty were hilariously fun, I have discovered—about my midnight visitor as soon as I could.

Coty just stared at me. “So how did this guy get in? And…is he a good kisser? He looks like he would know exactly what to do with a woman.”

“I-I-I suppose. I have only kissed four other males a handful of times.” And five males total. Three of them in the last handful of months.

What was I turning in to? 

“Wow. You are so virginal. How not fun. You’re almost seventy, lady. Haven’t you wanted to…get down and a dirty with a vampire?”

My cheeks heated. “I-I-I would have, if one ever offered. But until recently, I spent most of my days in Theo’s office. Or with my family. I haven’t spent much time with males. Not since…”

“Since?”

“I was told that I do not have a mate, Coty. No male really…wants to be with a female like that.”

“But why?”

“Our culture is mate-based. And without a mate…I am most likely fated to die without ever…I just…males have never really been interested in me.”

“Well, apparently at least five have. Next guy to kiss you…do yourself a favor…have a little fun, ok? Life is too short not to. Well, if you’re a Boltier sister, anyway. Not all of us are going to live forever. Then again…maybe we will. Who knows?”

Coty had a rather fatalistic attitude that I did not always understand. 

We were discussing whether we were going to heed Equan Black’s warning, when heavy knocking came at the door.

I looked at Coty. She had a wary look on her face that told me she sensed whoever was on the other side of that door wasn’t necessarily friendly.

I pulled in a breath and stood. 

I opened the door.

To see Theo there, an angry look on his face. And a delivery package in his arms. 

Cormac Jareth stood at his side.

He looked at Coty. His female’s cousin. “Scram, kid.”

“Hell, no.” Coty stepped up to my side. “It’s Jume’s suite. I’m not going anywhere.”

“It matters not if she’s here. She doesn’t have the information we need,” Theo said. He sat the package down angrily. “This was on your door frame, with a note to you attached.”